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Why has New York's gay marriage bill been stalled for days?

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Moreover, municipalities could penalize religious groups that refuse to serve married gay couples.

“Just because the state has this idea that they’ll write these exemptions in doesn’t mean that local governments won’t come in and say, 'We’ll punish you,' ” Professor Wilson adds.

In particular, she says municipalities could refuse to enter into contracts with or give tax breaks to groups that violate their antidiscrimination policies.

Defenders of the marriage bill, however, say these concerns are unfounded and that overly broad religious exemptions would conflict with New York’s existing human-rights law.

The state law bars discrimination based on sexual orientation, but makes certain exceptions for religious institutions. If the marriage law expanded the exemptions to include individuals or businesses, the law would be seriously weakened, says Susan Sommer, director of constitutional litigation for Lambda Legal, which supports same-sex marriage.

“This would be a rollback on civil rights, setting us back decades,” she says.

Ms. Sommer calls the threat of municipal penalties or lawsuits against religious-affiliated nonprofits “red herrings.” “Allowing people to marry within the state doesn’t change the preexisting [non-discrimination] requirements or necessarily create new conflicts that weren’t already there and being navigated fine in New York,” she adds.

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